Since I got to Europe, people have consistently been asking me what I thought about Egypt – did I feel safe? Is it ok to go? Should they go?
And I have to say that my feelings on the trip are very mixed. I’m so glad I went to Egypt – seeing the Pyramids and all the temples are a life-long dream come true. I got to meet so many cool people, and see so many awesome things. There aren’t many tourists, so the attractions were practically deserted. In so many ways, Egypt was awesome. For me, it was a dream trip and an absolute dream come true.
But then there are the other ways that it’s such a difficult place. My most common answer to the question now is that I think Egypt is a great place to go, alone if you’re a guy, and if you’re a girl, then go with a tour group. Egypt is complicated, and having someone to manage the logistics (and some of the safety) could truly be invaluable.
You know how we call our set of numbers Arabic numerals?
Yeah, well, they’re not the numbers that they use in actual Arabic. The whole number set in Arabic is completely different. So prices, times, etc are all extremely hard to decipher. For instance, catching my train in Cairo was made much more complicated by the fact that the platform and time were all in Arabic and had no translation to Arabic numerals.
Signage is also not Egypt’s strong suit. There is virtually no signage anywhere, so things get more confusing. What signage there is, it’s very rare to have translated into English. Finding your way is not for the faint of heart!
And then there’s the constant hassle. The catcalling was incessant – even if I had my shoulders and knees covered (or more), there was a decent amount of catcalling, especially in Aswan. For me, at times, it made me incredibly self-conscious. Not just because people were catcalling, but because it was representative of the fact that everyone on the street was noticing me.
In Aswan, because it was my last city, I decided to count the catcalling. I walked about 700 meters down the main road and passed 30 men. 26 of them cat-called me. Not for the faint of heart. Or the self-conscious.
The demands for tips were also a giant pain to deal with. It’s a constant hassle, and knowing how much to tip is hard. And when you want to tip with small denominations, good luck getting change. Practically everywhere you go is extremely reluctant to give any sort of change (I really don’t understand this). I think it’s related to their idea that if they don’t have change, you’ll just round up and give it to them. So God forbid you pay for something that’s 40LE with a 100LE bill… they just hope you’ll leave the extra 60LE for them. There have been multiple times that when I had this happen, I’d just say I didn’t want whatever it was I was trying to buy, and then magically, they managed to have change.
There’s also the general difficulty of things like trying to cross the street. Crossing the street in Cairo requires strong faith in a higher power to get you across the street (and a whole lot of confidence to just go with purpose).
For all of those reasons, I’d say to go with a tour group, and that I might have done that had I had a chance to do it over.
On the side of physical safety, I felt very safe in Egypt. While the men would catcall, I got the impression they weren’t going to touch me. I made sure not to be out at night and other general precautions, but I never felt that I was going to get robbed. Cheated, yes, that would be a given, but robbed – no.
That’s the other thing – if you’re going to Egypt, I’d add an extra line in the budget for tipping and for getting cheated. You’re going to need a decent pot for both things!
Bring Cipro, too. And some great anti-diarrheals. You’ll need them. I think every meal, I said a prayer before eating “God, please bless this food and please don’t let this be the meal that gives me Hepatitis.” Food preparation standards are not high, and I spent most of the two weeks with quite a bellyache. That was even eating in more expensive restaurants to try to get a slightly higher quality on the food, and trying to just eat things that were well-cooked.
It was interesting as I was at passport control leaving the country, and the border agent was asking if I had a good time in Egypt. Of course, I said yes. And he said “So you bring all your friends?” The country is definitely desperate for tourists. The money being gone is a huge problem for their economy, and I feel like it’s causing a death spiral for them. The fewer tourists there are, the more the touts and people in the industry need to hassle and extract money from them to survive, but then the more the tourists are hassled, I feel like they’re going to not recommend coming. It’s a hard situation to fix. With the border agent, I really wanted to reply with something along the lines of “You’re nice to me here, in the airport, encouraging me to bring my friends. Yet, if you were off duty and I passed you in the street, $10 says you’d catcall me. And any friends I’d bring.” Of course, I have enough sense not to actually say that, but that was my general feeling.
In sum, I would say to go to Egypt – just not alone (and with a guy if possible). It’s an amazing country, filled with treasures, that desperately needs to help. But beware – it’s a hard place to travel. Hard, but the rewards are great!